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Posts Tagged ‘European Parliament

In Europe, a vote for the right to keep GM out

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The 'no' vote has given the European Parliament an excellent chance to improve EU legislation and give member states genuine tools to protect the environment and promote genuinely sustainable farming. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

The ‘no’ vote has given the European Parliament an excellent chance to improve EU legislation and give member states genuine tools to protect the environment and promote genuinely sustainable farming. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Members of the European Parliament have defeated a European Commission proposal to prevent member states from banning genetically modified crops on health and/or environmental grounds. The result of this vote means that national bans on GM crops, for environmental or health reasons, are allowed even if the EU approves genetically modified (GM) crops for cultivation.

The European Food and Safety Authority had approved GM for use in the EU, but a number of countries opposed to GM (like France) demanded the right to block crops under a principle known as ‘subsidiarity’, or devolution to individual countries.

The Greens/European Free Alliance has said that the vote by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) strengthens the grounds on which EU member countries could opt out from GMO authorisations under the proposed new system.

In a statement the Greens/European Free Alliance said: “No must mean no: countries wanting to opt out of GM authorisations must have a totally legally watertight framework for doing so. MEPs have also voted for the inclusion of mandatory measures to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops, with the myriad of issues this raises. The committee also rejected a proposal from EU governments, which would have obliged member states to directly request that corporations take them out of the scope of their GMO applications, before being allowed to opt out.”

However, the Greens are still very concerned that the new opt out scheme is a slippery slope for easing EU GMO authorisations and does not fundamentally change the flawed EU approval process in itself. Organisations, scientists, academics, political fronts and citizens’ alliances who do not want GM crop or food in their regions and countries nonetheless see an urgent need to reform the EU’s GMO authorisation process. On 03 November 2014, signatures from more than 160,000 European citizens were presented to the vice-chair of the Environment Committee calling on him to close these loopholes.

Eight EU countries have banned the cultivation of GM crops (others have not commercially grown such crops). The only crop permitted, Monsanto's GM maize, is restricted to some areas of Spain and four other countries. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Eight EU countries have banned the cultivation of GM crops (others have not commercially grown such crops). The only crop permitted, Monsanto’s GM maize, is restricted to some areas of Spain and four other countries. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Currently, authorisations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and the consistent opposition of a majority of EU member states in Council and, importantly, a clear majority of EU citizens. They have warned against a trade-off of easier EU authorisations against easier national bans. For the EU, the next step must be an EU-wide total ban and total rejection of GM crop, food, seed and technology in all its forms, otherwise the new proposal for EU GMO approvals is a Trojan horse which risks finally opening the door to GMOs despite citizens’ opposition, and which will keep open the route for GM/biotech companies to appeal against such bans (a route that European Greens and the many groups that have rejected GM want to shut once and for all).

Such a next step – which is the logical and moral next step for the European Parliament to take – is necessary to overturn completely the current arrangement which treats biotech companies and corporations at the same level as governments. Under the arrangement that existed till now (the ramifications of this week’s ‘no’ vote must still be examined) an EU member country which does not want GMO to be grown on its territory must request the biotech company (through the European Commission) that its territory be excluded from the geographical scope of the EU authorisation. Only if the country has applied for a ‘territorial exemption’ and been refused by the company is the country allowed to then implement a ban on GMO on its territory.

How utterly contemptuous of a country’s sovereign rights this arrangement was, and how it found its way into procedure illustrates dramatically the power and influence that the GM and biotech industry has come to wield in the EU – the decision of the geographical scope of an EU authorisation gave more weight to biotech/GM companies than to governments!

In the debate about GM crops, the argument that the biotech industry and their supporters always fall back on is that whether we like it or not, we are going to need them to feed the world. Genetic modification has, they assure us, the potential to produce crops with all sorts of wonderful traits: tolerance of drought, cold, salinity and flooding, resistance to insect pests, extra nutritional value, and more.

“But for the last 20 years, GM has singularly failed to convert that potential into reality,” the Institute for Science in Society has explained. “Almost all the GM crops grown have been modified to have one of two traits: tolerance of glyphosate-based herbicides and the ability to produce a Bt-toxin that can kill corn- and cotton pests. In the meantime, conventional breeding, often employing modern techniques such as marker-assisted breeding, has continued to deliver the goods. If our real goal is to feed the world, we should be taking resources away from GM and devoting them to other agricultural research that is less glamorous-sounding but more effective.”

Lured by dirty GM, Europe’s politicians betray public

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RG_GMO_quote_20140603Feckless EU politicians – the shallow brats of Brussels – have struck a deal between themselves and the agri-bio-technology corporations to sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the European Union. This group, greasy fingers firmly in each other’s pocketbooks, want to allow (under limited circumstances, they say) individual EU member states to prohibit the growing of GMO crops on their territory, but to boost GMO crops in the EU overall.

The so-called “compromise pact” is likely to make it easier for the manufacturers of GM crops to win approval while allowing some countries to ban them. Not surprisingly, as the British government slavishly follows the White House line on every matter (except fish-and-chips), the deal was welcomed by Britain, which in a typically obsequious statement said it hoped the pact would allow for more rapid approval of GM crops in the EU.

Oddly, France’s agriculture ministry welcomed the “good news”, which coincided with a decision by the French constitutional court to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize. Just as oddly, Germany praised the deal for allowing “opt-outs”, saying it opened the way for a formal ban in Germany.

RG_EU_GMO_pact_201405This pact came following what is called an indicative vote of EU Member State representatives – taken in a closed meeting (obviously). A formal vote will take place at a meeting of Environment Ministers on June 12 and if agreed – very likely it will be – it will then go to the European Parliament for approval.

That approval (or not) may come in an environment riven by weaknesses in the EU’s GMO assessment and approval system and pro-GMO bias at the centre of the European Food safety Agency (EFSA). There has also been chronic failure to implement an EU-wide and rigorous co-existence and liability regime – to date the EU has only produced non-legally binding recommendations for co-existence (of GM and non-GM crops).

The significance of all this is that it breaks the political stalemate that has largely prevented GMO crops from being grown in the EU. The proposal is based on the deceit that both pro- and anti-GMO countries can have want they want, and the unity of the EU Single Market can remain intact.

This is nonsense because under the proposed terms:

* Before banning an approved GMO crop EU Member States have to seek agreement from GMO companies to having their product excluded from a specific territory.
* If the companies refuse, Member States can proceed with the ban but only on grounds that to do not go against the EU approval and assessment of health and environmental risk – which means that if the EU-wide assessment gives the nod to GM, the country must concur despite its own assessment and public opinion.
* EU Member States nevertheless still have specific grounds for a ban which can include aspects like protection of nature reserves, areas vulnerable to contamination, and socio-economic impacts. So EU ‘unity’ can be overridden, provided smaller and weaker EU members states assert that right.

Dear Angie, what part of ‘Nein’ do you not understand?

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So says Le Monde Diplomatique about the rousing change of government in Greece: “From multiple divisions and meetings (from 1968) of the left and progressive reformer, Syriza [Greece’s Radical Left Coalition party] made the biggest breakthrough of these critical elections. By itself, this result could spell the end of bipartisanship.”

“One of the three major issues of the election,” the L M Diplo continued, “was precisely to determine if any of the leftist forces successfully secure a dominant position. Issue decided: with 16.8% of the votes, it definitely gets Syriza leadership status, rising even as the second political force – behind New Democracy (ND, right), with only two points difference. Among young people who voted for the first time, among the unemployed, and throughout the Athens area, Syriza tops.”

From the French original: “Issu de multiples divisions et réunions (à partir de 1968) de la gauche réformatrice et progressiste, Syriza a fait la plus importante percée de ces élections décisives. A lui seul, ce résultat pourrait sonner le glas du bipartisme.”

“L’un des trois enjeux majeurs du scrutin consistait précisément à déterminer si l’une des forces de gauche parviendrait à s’assurer une position dominante. Question tranchée : avec 16,8 % des suffrages, Syriza obtient incontestablement ce statut de leader, se hissant même au rang de deuxième force politique du pays – derrière Nouvelle Démocratie (ND, droite), avec seulement deux points d’écart. Chez les jeunes qui ont voté pour la première fois, chez les sans-emploi, et dans toute la région d’Athènes, Syriza arrive en tête.”

There’s an abundance of ferment in Greece, real ferment, with the Occupy zeal but with a solid political base and programme this time. This re-post from Links (International Journal of Socialist Renewal) has said that Antarsya, the Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left, is a united front of left-wing groups. It is separate from Syriza. There are a number of political differences between Syriza and Antarsya — including on whether to demand immediate withdrawal from the European Union. Antarsya’s position statement before the 06 May 2012 election indicates how volatile this ferment is.

Those dour Germans seem not to have understood what it is that is happening in Greichenland (as Greece is known in Deutschland) and, being firmly stuck in wirtschaftswunder mode, the German ruling oligarchies are making disapproving noises. Der Spiegel has said that that “several German leaders voiced their demands Wednesday that the country stick with the austerity measures negotiated as part of the most recent bailout package”.

The Spiegel reported that Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and a member of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, told the tabloid Bild: “The Greek parties should bear in mind that a stable government that holds to agreements is a basic prerequisite for further support from the euro-zone countries.”

Moreover, that Jörg Asmussen, European Central Bank board member, told the German business daily Handelsblatt: “Greece must know that there is no alternative to the agreed to restructuring arrangement, if it wants to stay a member of the euro zone.”

The Germans are deaf to the exceedingly loud “NO!” that is coming out of Greece. Alexis Tsipras, head of Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), who has been charged with forming the new government, declared on Tuesday that his country’s agreement to the rescue package was null and void. “The pro-bailout parties no longer have a majority in parliament to vote in destructive measures for the Greek people,” Tsipras said. “The popular mandate clearly renders the bailout agreement invalid.”

Now, Angie, what part of “Nein” do you not understand?

UN head gives Europe blunt message on ‘integration’ and immigrants

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Source: UN News

There are times when the United Nations gets it right, and this is one of thise times. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has delivered a ringing statement to the rightists of Europe, against what he called a new “politics of polarization”.

His statement comes in the week following the extraordinary and unconscionable declaration by Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, that multiculturalism has failed in Germany and so has integration of foreigners. Ban’s statement, contained in two addresses – to the European Parliament and to the Council of Europe – also comes a month after Nicholas Sarkozy’s government in France deported several thousand Roma to Bulgaria and Romania.

Ban warned Europe against a new “politics of polarization”, discrimination and intolerance over immigration, with Muslim immigrants as primary targets. “Almost seven years ago, my predecessor Kofi Annan stood before you,” he told the 27-nation European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. “In his address, he made an impassioned call for Europe to seize the opportunities presented by immigration and to resist those who demonized these newcomers as ‘the other’. I wish I could report, today, that the situation in Europe has improved over the intervening years. But as a friend of Europe, I share profound concern.”

In a speech earlier to the 47-nation Council of Europe, he highlighted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ proclamation of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. “That is our base line,” he declared at the session marking the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. “That is our standard. There are no exceptions. In a complicated and connected world, this mission is essentially simple and simply essential.”

Germany's persistent discomfort with migrants. Image: Deutsche Welle

In his address to the parliamentarians, Mr. Ban said Europe has served “as an extraordinary engine of integration, weaving together nations and cultures into a whole that is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. But for Europe, ‘winning the peace’ was the narrative of the last century. “The 21st century European challenge is tolerance within. Inclusion, building diverse communities, is as complex a task as the one Europe faced after the Second World War. None of this is easy,” he added.

Migrants, he noted, suffer disproportionately, whether they are from within Europe or beyond, and he pointed to “a new politics of polarization” as a dangerous emerging trend. “Some play on people’s fears. They seek to invoke liberal values for illiberal causes. They accuse immigrants of violating European values. Yet too often, it is the accusers who subvert these values – and thus the very idea of what it means to be a citizen of the European Union,” he said.

Ban made particular reference to Germany’s history of right-wing nationalism. “Europe’s darkest chapters have been written in language such as this,” he said. “Today, the primary targets are immigrants of the Muslim faith. Europe cannot afford stereotyping that closes minds and breeds hatred. And the world cannot afford a Europe that does this.” In his address to the Council, Mr. Ban cited evidence of backsliding on civil and political rights and a growing anxiety in many developed countries over migration and economic hard times that are used to justify policies of discrimination and exclusion.

Germany's violent, racist and xenophobic rightist groups still organise with impunity. Image: Deutsche Welle

The UN Secretary General also said bluntly that none of Europe’s largest and wealthiest powers had signed or ratified the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers 20 years after it was adopted. “In some of the world’s most advanced democracies, among nations that take just pride in their long history of social progressiveness, migrants are being denied basic human rights,” he said. “We must respect cultural diversity, while never compromising our fundamental principles and never tolerating intolerance, Lasting social change, including respect for human rights, and particularly women’s rights, cannot be planted from afar. It must take root within societies.”

In a typically clumsy and painfully transparent attempt at camouflaging the Merkel government’s increasingly illiberal position, the German federal government has announced plans for legislation to promote the integration of immigrants into mainstream society. “For a while multiculturalism in Germany was about immigrants living as they wished and not putting integration too much in the forefront,” said spokesman Steffen Seibert at a government press briefing in Berlin. “In everybody’s interest, this society has to act, and the government will act.”

"Demonising the 'other' " as a dangerous political manoeuvre. Image: Deutsche Welle

Seibert said Merkel’s center-right coalition cabinet planned to adopt “concrete” new regulations next Wednesday on immigration policy and residency permits. The legislation would focus on German language courses and combating forced marriages, and make it easier for foreign diplomas to be formally recognized. Deutsche Welle quoted Seibert as saying: “This country is extremely glad to have hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people with foreign roots who are well integrated. But we also recognize, and perhaps we are stressing it more now than in years gone by, that with some foreigners integration is not happening as it should. In some cases it is quite openly being rejected.”

Seibert’s schizophrenic prose does nothing to explain Germany’s deep-seated discomfort with the foreigner. It’s very label for the immigrant of the 1950s, gastarbeiter, or guest worker, implied that when the ‘guest’ had completed his term of economic usefulness he would cease being the guest by leaving. This is a term that continued to be used by all sections of Germany’s political spectrum even throughout the years when the country claimed it was encouraging multi-culturalism. It did no such thing, choosing instead to raise barriers based on language proficiency, the recognition of educational qualifications and the ‘burden’ on its services. By her contemptible statement, Merkel has revealed the deeply alarming tendency of western European ruling elites to resort to dangerous polarisation in order to disguise the failures of their policies for their own marginalised and economically depressed citizens.